By Steve Hynd
In April 1888, Kier Hardie stood for election to the British parliament as an independent labour candidate, after realising that the Liberal Party was happy to call for the votes of working people as its natural due but would never enact more than a tiny proportion of a labour agenda that was at odds with its own essentially rich-elite nature. he lost that election, but it began a process that saw Hardie returned to parliament as the first MP from an independent labour party in 1892 - a process that saw the rise of a Labour Party that by 1924 became the party of government for the first time. That Labour Party - despite it's latter-day co-opting by the Whigs again, in the Americanised form of the Blairites - is singularly responsible for the UK's policies of women's suffrage, of worker's rights, of universal healthcare, universal education and a social safety net for those who struggle. It's policies have been copied, in some form or other, the world over.
Despite any regretable tendency to proclaim "not invented here", the story of the rise of the Labour Party in Britain has important lessons for modern America. While not exact, the analogy is none the less clear: a nation where rule is divided between competing elements of the rich elite - one that pretends to care about the interests of the common people and one that makes no such pretense - with each taking their turn to steer the country, always toward greater power and enrichment for the already rich and powerful, the only difference being the degree of audacity with which that policy is pursued. Those lessons are simple: it takes a long time to build an effective labor movement, and it does that movement no good to keep voting for liberal Whigs in the hope that those members of the rich elite will enact legislation to satisfy any meaningful proportion of the working class's needs. But as Saul Alinsky once said, "Power goes to two poles -- to those who've got the money and those who've got the people."
There is no demographic reason why a party of the common people, for the common people, should not be the majority party in the United States. Indeed, there are reasons to believe such a party, responsive to a popular and democratic socialist agenda, could be the natural majority party. The party could not be named the Labor Party - thank McCarthy and his kneejerk legacy - but a Populist Party could, with a couple of decades of organising, see majorities on the Hill and a President in the Oval Office.
It's important to realise that the current electorate is not the same as the potential electorate. By American standards the turnout for the 2004 Presidential election was high, for example - yet by the standards of other Western democracies it was woefully low. Chris Bowers at MyDD researched who didn't turn out to vote and came up with some interesting findings. In 2004, for example, the national median income was $35,100 p.a. yet the median income of the electorate was $55,300 - a difference of 57.5%.
In other words, it is mostly the poorest segment of society who don't vote. Consider that although a presidential election winner might gain 52% of the electorate, he'd still only win 34% of all the possible votes. There is a huge potential constituency out there, between 25% and 30% of the potential electorate, who simply don't vote - and they don't vote simply because neither major party have policies that address their concerns! A party that can mobilise that unheard constituency and take even 10% from the current big two - from the Ron Paul populists of the Right and the "DFH's" of the Dem base - wins the first national election in which it has built up sufficient organisation to do that mobilization on a nationwide basis.
The Democrat Party, well aware that it would suffer most in losing votes to such a Populist movement, perenially indulges in fearmongering of the "most important election EVAH!" kind, ignoring that Republicans have ruled the roost for at least half of the last century and haven't managed to destroy the United States yet. And if that doesn't work, it indulges in circular arguments - essentially that since a true broadbased party of the poor and working class doesn't exist it cannot get elected and since it cannot get elected it should not exist. Meanwhile, many Democrat supporters are ironically blind to the way in which they've already settled the fact that they can be bought and sold by corporate interests and are only haggling over the price. People, this is not about "nuance". This about political prostitution and having had enough of it.
Lots of people are talking about a Lincoln quote today.
�Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.�
And suggesting that this might be the last "true" Labor Day. I'd like to offer a different Lincoln quote:
"If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool."
"All that harms labor is treason to America."
And suggest that it's long past time for America to restore Labor Day to its international date - May first - while restoring Labor and the common people to where they should be, at the center of politics.